Before joining Liverpool, James Milner has spent the past five seasons pushing for and winning trophies at Manchester City. The hard-working and experienced midfielder knows about building momentum as season progresses to latter stages, using victories as a hook for further success, and keeping focussed on playing his role in a competitive squad. He's one of the players to pay particular attention to when he speaks, simply because he has walked this path multiple times.
Liverpool's Premier League victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road was part of what appears to be English top flight's most unpredictable campaign in a generation. Leicester City sit at the top of the league with 16 games to go, having lost only two games all season. Manchester City and Arsenal—widely perceived title favourites—have already lost five games each. Tottenham Hotspur have closed the gap on the teams ahead of them despite losing two out of their last five home games. Manchester United's status in terms of points garnered, games lost, and position in the league is virtually the same as Liverpool's. Chelsea—defending champions and title favourites heading into this season—languish in 13th spot.
Liverpool's top four aspirations may be extremely overambitious after a season of maddening inconsistency, there is much to fight for in the league as well as three other competitions. Tomorrow's semi-final second leg against Stoke City offers Liverpool an opportunity to contest in a final early in Jürgen Klopp's tenure at the club. Liverpool's vice-captain believes that those incredible scenes at Carrow Road could provide the necessary boost for glory.
"This has to kick-start things," Milner said. "You look at how the season has gone for us, no-one thinks we have hit the heights we can or played particularly well consistently. The position we are in is not where we want to be but we’re not a million miles away from the top four. If we can put a few wins together we’ll be around that and we’re still in all the cup competitions.
"We can get to Wembley by completing the job on Tuesday. For a season where we haven’t hit the heights we want to, we’re still in there. If we can build on this win and finish strongly it can still be a successful season for us. It’s only half-time. It’s a big game and we need to finish the job off. It’s going to be tough because Stoke are a decent side but coming off the back of this result is pleasing. That gives us a massive lift going into the Stoke game."
Milner was delighted with the victory in the sort of game that is rare and thrilling for a player to take part in but knows where his side has to improve on in the future. Despite the defensive lapses, he hailed Liverpool's resilience and spirit.
"I’ve played in hundreds of games but not many quite like that," Milner said. "They don’t come along too often. It was a great game for the neutrals - plenty of mistakes and a lot of good play as well. It summed up our season so far really. We showed what we can do but also we gave away some poor goals.
"There’s plenty for us to work on but it was great character from the boys to come back from 3-1 down and then respond again to that late equaliser and go again to get the win. It says a lot about the boys we’ve got in that dressing room. At 4-4 a lot of teams would have said ‘here we go again’ but we went straight up the other end and scored."